Do you find that you often feel scatterbrained? You could have sworn that you put those dishes in the sink, but there they sit in the living room. Or maybe you start to wonder where your car keys are while you are driving down the road. Could practicing mindfulness help you be more, well, mindful? If you want to know how to practice mindfulness, you will find some easy ways to do so here.
Mindfulness is “a technique in which one focuses one’s full attention only on the present, experiencing thoughts, feelings, and sensations but not judging them”, according to dictionary.com. Meditation is one way to practice mindfulness, but it can also be as simple as stopping to smell the roses on your walk to work. Mindfulness simply means to first be aware in the present moment and to experience all of the sights, smells, sounds, tastes, and sensations of that moment. The second part of mindfulness is to not judge any of these things. It is a way to practice viewing your life objectively and can actually help improve the way you feel.
The opposite of being mindful is being on autopilot, if that helps to clarify. For example, have you ever driven home from work or school on autopilot? You get home and wonder why you don’t remember driving over the bridge or getting off the exit ramp. Sometimes the things we do repeatedly become second nature and we stop paying attention. Being mindful means to consciously slow down and take it all in. So how can practicing mindfulness benefit you?
Mindfulness: 5 Science-Backed Reasons to Practice Mindfulness
1. Achieve Your Goals
Being mindful, or being aware of what is happening both internally and externally, can help you achieve your goals according to a study published in the International Journal of Well-being. For example, let’s pretend you are trying to eat healthier foods, but one day after work you sit down with a pint of ice cream. Now, if you are on autopilot, you will probably eat the whole thing. But if you practice mindfulness, you will be able to stop and realize what you are doing. So maybe after eating only half the carton, you can stop yourself and realize that this is going against your goal.
If you forget about the other part of mindfulness, the non-judging part, you might get all upset with yourself and finish off the pint anyway. But if you don’t judge yourself, you will be able to see the situation logically, and it will be easier for you to stop. In this way, mindfulness can help you reach your goals.
2. Reduce Your Stress
This is something the majority of us could benefit from! There is even a formal method called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction that was invented in the 1970s by a man named Jon Kabat-Zinn. MBSR is taught at 250 hospitals to help patients deal with stress, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and much more.
So how exactly does mindfulness help you reduce your stress? It works like this. When you practice mindfulness, you learn how to pause in moments of stress. Instead of letting your mind run amok while it is all hyped up on stress hormones, you learn to be in a state of ‘being’, which is associated with relaxation, rather than a state of ‘doing’, which is associated with action and stress. You are better able to resist your knee-jerk reactions of panic, and instead, you are able to think of solutions, which in turn help you reduce the level of stress you are experiencing.
3. Regulate Your Emotions
An emerging body of laboratory, experimental, and treatment outcome studies indicate that the practice of mindfulness is associated with healthy emotional responses. Mindfulness is a tool that helps you step back from intense emotional responses. Once you have stepped back from the intensity of the emotion, you can then identify and accept it instead of trying to either fight the emotion or react too strongly as a result of it.
Science is not conclusive here, but researches are devoting more time to trying to understand the effects of mindfulness on depression. An article published in the Harvard Gazette explains that scientist having been using MRI technology to show how practicing mindfulness actually changes the brain! It has even been shown that changes that occur in brain activity while practicing mindfulness are maintained even when a person is not practicing it. This could mean that the benefits can be long-term.
4. Raise Your Grades
Is it possible to raise your grades by doing something other than just studying? According to some studies, it is! Fourth and fifth grade students who practiced mindfulness scored 15% higher on math exams than those who did not according to a Canadian study done in 2015. In a UK study, scientists first taught MBSR (the stress reduction technique) to 16-18 year olds. They then followed up three months later and found a significant improvement in their academic success.
This research suggests that practicing mindfulness can help you improve your grades in school! Students in a United States study who meditated for about 10 minutes before listening to a lecture did better on a post-lecture test than those who did not. It seems that slowing the mind down and being fully present in the moment helps you be more alert so that you can take in more information. It also seems to help you retain it. Try to practice mindfulness before your next lesson and try it out for yourself!
5. Improve Your Job Performance
When practiced in the workplace, mindfulness has been shown to improve attention, focus, and behavior of employees. We already know that practicing mindfulness can help handle stress, and stress is often a part of our work lives. In fact, companies such as Google, Aetna, and The Mayo Clinic and even the United States Marine Corps use mindfulness training as a way to improve the way their organizations function.
According to a recent study, mindfulness improved general functioning in people and also improved stability, control, and efficiency (the three qualities of attention). In fact, it has even been shown to improve work relationships by creating a greater sense of empathy in those who practice it. Next time you find yourself having trouble focusing at work, take a moment to be mindful. You will be able to center your attention and focus on the problem at hand all with a decreased sense of stress!
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